Square to scoop up Afterpay for AU$39 billion



Image: Afterpay

Australian buy now, pay later success story Afterpay has entered into an arrangement with US payments player Square that will see it become part of the Jack Dorsey enterprise.

The pair announced the scheme implementation deed on Monday, under which Square has agreed to acquire all of the issued shares in Afterpay. The transaction has an implied value of approximately $29 billion — AU$39 billion — based on the closing price of Square common stock on 30 July 2021 is expected to be paid in all stock. 

Based on Square’s closing price of $247.26 per share, this represents an implied transaction price of approximately AU$126.21 per Afterpay share, a premium of approximately 30.6% to Afterpay’s latest closing price of AU$96.66.

Following completion of the transaction, Afterpay shareholders are expected to own approximately 18.5% of the combined company on a fully diluted basis.

Afterpay is touting the transaction as one highlighting the strength in the Australian tech scene Square said the addition of Afterpay would allow it to add further features to its ecosystem, more customers.

Square plans to integrate Afterpay into its existing Seller Cash App business units, which it said would enable the smallest of merchants to offer a buy now, pay later function at checkout, give Afterpay consumers the ability to manage their instalment payments directly in Cash App, give Cash App customers the ability to discover merchants offers within the app.

“Square Afterpay have a shared purpose,” said Dorsey, co-founder CEO of Square, also CEO of Twitter.

“We built our business to make the financial system more fair, accessible, inclusive, Afterpay has built a trusted braligned with those principles.

“Together, we can better connect our Cash App Seller ecosystems to deliver even more compelling products services for merchants consumers, putting the power back in their hands.”

In a statement, Afterpay co-founders co-CEOs Anthony Eisen Nick Molnar said the acquisition would further accelerate growth, particularly in the US, allow the platforms to offer access to a new category of in-person merchants, provide a broader range of new capabilities services.

“We are fully aligned with Square’s purpose and, together, we hope to continue redefining financial wellness responsible spending for our customers,” they said. “The transaction marks an important recognition of the Australian technology sector as homegrown innovation continues to be shared more broadly throughout the world. It also provides our shareholders with the opportunity to be a part of future growth of an innovative company aligned with our vision.”

Afterpay in February reported its results for the first half of 2021, making a net loss after tax of AU$79.2 million at the end of the six-month period. As of June 30, Afterpay boasted more than 16 million consumers nearly 100,000 merchants globally.

Releasing its FY21 results on the same day as the Square announcement, Afterpay said approximately 25,000 new customers are joining its platform globally per day. For the full year, Afterpay posted gross profit of AU$675 million, on revenue of AU$925 million.

Afterpay has its major base in Australia. It currently employs 600 local staff but has plans to grow that over the next year. It also has staff based in London, New York, San Francisco, China.

Speaking previously, Einsen said while Australia has an innovative, “entrepreneurial spirit”, given the population size, it often lacks the specific experience needed to build the global platforms needed for fintech businesses.

“Yes Australia has made some great progress, but so has everyone else. Many studies indicate our competitiveness as a location to base a fintech business has actually declined over the last decade, which means that other countries are moving quickly to take up these opportunities,” he said in February.

The closing of the transaction is expected to occur in the first quarter of calendar year 2022 by way of a recommended court-approved scheme of arrangement, subject to certain conditions.

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A Brain Drain Among Government Scientists Bogs Down Biden’s Climate Ambitions


WASHINGTON — Juliette Hart quit her job last summer as an oceanographer for the United States Geological Survey, where she used climate models to help coastal communities plan for rising seas. She was demoralized after four years of the Trump administration, she said, in which political appointees pressured her to delete or downplay mentions of climate change.

“It’s easy quick to leave government, not so quick for government to regain the talent,” said Dr. Hart, whose job remains vacant.

President Donald J. Trump’s battle against climate science — his appointees undermined federal studies, fired scientists drove many experts to quit or retire — continues to reverberate six months into the Biden administration. From the Agriculture Department to the Pentagon to the National Park Service, hundreds of jobs in climate environmental science across the federal government remain vacant.

Scientists climate policy experts who quit have not returned. Recruitment is suffering, according to federal employees, as government science jobs are no longer viewed as insulated from politics. And money from Congress to replenish the ranks could be years away.

The result is that President Biden’s ambitious plans to confront climate change are hampered by a brain drain.

“The attacks on science have a much longer lifetime than just the lifetime of the Trump administration,” said John Holdren, professor of environmental science policy at Harvard a top science adviser to President Barack Obama during his two terms.

At the Environmental Protection Agency, new climate rules clean air regulations ordered by President Biden could be held up for months or even years, according to interviews with 10 current former E.P.A. climate policy staff members.

The Interior Department has lost scientists who study the impacts of drought, heat waves rising seas caused by a warming planet. The Agriculture Department has lost economists who study the impacts of climate change on the food supply. The Energy Department has a shortage of experts who design efficiency standards for appliances like dishwashers refrigerators to reduce the pollution they emit.

And at the Defense Department, an analysis of the risks to national security from global warming was not completed by its original May deadline, which was extended by 60 days, an agency spokesman said.

Mr. Biden has set the most forceful agenda to drive down planet-warming fossil fuel emissions of any president. Some of his plans to curb emissions depend on Congress to pass legislation. But a good portion could be accomplished by the executive branch — if the president had the staff resources.

While the Biden administration has installed more than 200 political appointees across the government in senior positions focused on climate the environment, even supporters say it has been slow to rehire the senior scientists policy experts who translate research data into policy regulations.

White House officials said the Biden administration had nominated more than twice as many senior scientists science policy officials as the Trump administration had by this time, was moving to fill dozens of vacancies on federal boards commissions.

It has also created climate change positions in agencies that didn’t previously have them, like the Health Human Services Department or the Treasury Department.

“The administration has been very clear about marshaling an all-of-government approach that makes climate change a critical piece of our domestic, national security foreign policy, we continue to move swiftly to fill out science roles in the administration to ensure that science, truth discovery have a place in government again,” a spokesman, Vedant Patel, said in a statement.

During the Trump years, the number of scientists technical experts at the United States Geological Survey, an agency of the Interior Department one of the nation’s premier climate-science research institutions, fell to 3,152 in 2020 from 3,434 in 2016, a loss of about 8 percent.

Two agencies within the Agriculture Department that produce climate research to help farmers lost 75 percent of their employees after the Trump administration relocated their offices in 2019 from Washington to Kansas City, Mo., according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group.

And at the E.P.A., the number of environmental protection specialists dropped to 1,630 from 2,152, a 24 percent decline, according to a House science committee report, which called the losses “a blow to the heart” of the agency. The E.P.A. is operating under its Trump-era budget of about $9 billion, which pays for 14,172 employees. Mr. Biden has asked Congress to increase that to $11.2 billion.

At the same time, Mr. Biden has directed the E.P.A. to write ambitious new rules reining in climate-warming pollution from vehicle tailpipes, power plants oil gas wells, while also restoring Obama-era rules on toxic mercury pollution wetlands protection.

Some E.P.A. scientists are facing a mountain of work that was left untouched by the Trump administration.

One program, the Integrated Risk Information System, or I.R.I.S., evaluates the dangers of chemicals to human health. During the Obama administration, the program completed studies on the effects of 31 potentially harmful chemicals. During the Trump administration, the program completed just one — on RDX, a toxic chemical explosive used in military operations.

“There is a massive backlog,” said Vincent Cogliano, the former head of risk information system, who retired in 2019. “A lot of people have left, that will make it harder.”

The problem is made worse by a feeling among young scientists that federal research can be derailed by politics.

“My students have told me, I believe in what E.P.A.’s s trying to do, but I’m worried that the outcomes of my work will be dictated by the political leaders not by what the science actually says,” said Stan Meiburg, who directs graduate studies in sustainability at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, N.C. He left his 38-year career at the E.P.A. the day before Mr. Trump’s inauguration.

The U.S. Geological Survey lost hundreds of scientists during the tenure of James Reilly, a former astronaut petroleum geologist appointed to be director by Mr. Trump. Mr. Reilly sought to limit the scientific data that was used in modeling the future impacts of climate change.

“What I saw under the Trump administration, particularly under director Reilly, was a perfect storm — a situation where there was interference with the science, inefficient micromanagement that bogged us down, also negligence of key missions,” said Mark Sogge, a former research ecologist with the agency who retired in January after filing a complaint against Mr. Reilly.

“Were there long-term effects?” Mr. Sogge said. “I think so. Many of those projects are still behind struggling.”

Another author of the complaint against Mr. Reilly, David Applegate, a longtime scientist at the U.S. Geological Survey, has been appointed the acting director of the agency. Mr. Biden has requested that Congress increase its budget to $1.6 billion from $1.3 billion, the agency has hired nearly 100 scientists under Dr. Applegate’s direction.

Still, vacancies abound.

As a research scientist at the Geological Survey, Margaret Hiza Redsteer ran the Navajo LUse Planning Project, which studied climate change to help tribal officials plan for drought. Funding for her project was abruptly canceled in 2017; Dr. Redsteer resigned shortly after.

Now, the Biden administration finds itself confronting a mega-drought in the Southwest, as well as pressure to address the effects of climate change on tribal nations. Dr. Redsteer said no one had been hired to continue her work.

The staffing challenges extend to national security intelligence agencies.

Rod Schoonover resigned from his job as a State Department analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence Research focusing on ecological destruction in 2019 after Mr. Trump’s national security adviser tried to block climate science from Dr. Schoonover’s written congressional testimony.

He was the only scientist at his level in any U.S. intelligence agency focused on the manifestations of climate change across the globe.

“There was one of me,” said Dr. Schoonover, whose position remains vacant.

“You hear a lot of rhetoric about how climate change some of the other Earth system issues are potentially catastrophic developments issues facing humanity,” he said. “But if you walk down the halls of one of our intelligence agencies, it would not reflect that.”

The agency is “continuing to assess and, as needed, expour capacity to prioritize the climate crisis,” Ned Price, the State Department spokesman, said in a statement.

The Defense Department has hired eight climate change experts from the Army Corps of Engineers; Mr. Biden’s budget calls for 17 more.

“The impacts of climate change on the department’s mission are clear growing,” Richard Kidd, deputy assistant secretary of defense for energy, environment resilience, said in a statement. “We need a work force that reflects that fact.”

For intelligence agencies, it will take time to ramp up be able to deliver risk assessments to the president regarding climate change, said Erin Sikorsky, who led climate national security analysis across federal intelligence agencies until last year.

“You’ve got to hire new people; you’ve got to train people to integrate this into their day-to-day work,” said Ms. Sikorsky, now deputy director of the Center for Climate & Security, a think tank based in Washington. “It’s not something that can happen overnight.”

Max Stier, president chief executive of the Partnership for Public Service, which studies the federal work force, said the Biden administration must focus on modernizing recruitment improving human resource departments.

“I don’t think it’s a simple story of ‘The last administration was anti-science the current administration is pro-science so everything’s going to be fine,’” Mr. Steir said. “And there’s no law you can pass that will fix all of this.”



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Wuhan lab report raises further questions about possible COVID-19 lab leak


Months ahead of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab requested bids for major renovations to air safety waste treatment systems in research facilities that had been operational for less than 2 years, according to a new congressional report on the pandemic’s origins, obtained by Fox News. 

“Such a significant renovation so soon after the facility began operation appears unusual,” said the report from the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Republican staff.  The projects for air disinfection, hazardous waste central air conditioning systems “all raise questions about how well these systems were functioning in the months prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.” 

The true reason for the procurement posting is unclear, as is when or if the work was even initiated.  It adds another circumstantial element to the controversial argument that the pandemic began in a Wuhan lab, including suspicious behavior obfuscation from China’s government signs the pandemic began months before previously assumed. 

Only weeks ahead of President Biden’s deadline for the intelligence community’s review into the origins of the pandemic, Republicans will release their most detailed case yet arguing that researchers in Wuhan could have genetically manipulated the virus that “the preponderance of evidence suggests SARS-CoV-2 was accidentally released from a Wuhan Institute of Virology laboratory.” 

Staff for Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will include this information as an addendum to their September report.   

DC MAYOR BOWSER PHOTOGRAPHED MASKLESS AT WEDDING RECEPTION AFTER REINSTATING MASK MANDATE

Over the past several months, more public health experts, scientists government officials have called for an investigation into a possible lab leak, along with examinations into whether the virus began naturally.  They’ve called for a thorough, independent investigation, in China, into the origins of the pandemic, though the Chinese Communist Party has denied access. 

Without cooperation from China’s government, there is significant skepticism any of the handful of U.S. government investigations will provide a concrete narrative into how the pandemic originated.  Beyond the Biden administration’s ongoing review, the State Department, under the previous administration, published a declassified report days before leaving office.  At the time, it offered the most detailed case yet that the coronavirus had leaked from a lab. 

Citing the ongoing intelligence community review, Democratic leaders have shown little interest in congressional investigations, leaving Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Energy Commerce Committees to conduct their own reviews.  Democrats control Congress, its committees, Republicans alone, therefore, have no subpoena power. 

Using project announcements published on the Chinese government’s procurement website, along with other open-sourced data, interviews with former administration officials scientists, research papers international press reports, Republicans on the Foreign Affairs Committee have built their argument on a timeline that claims the virus escaped the Wuhan Institute of Virology “sometime prior to September 12, 2019.” 

On that day, the Wuhan University, less than a mile from the WIV’s headquarters, issued a notice for laboratory inspections.  Hours later, the WIV’s viral sequence database disappeared from the internet. Later that evening, the institute published an announcement for bids for “security services” at the lab “to include gatekeepers, guards, video surveillance, security patrols, people to handle the ‘registration reception of foreign personnel,’” according to the report. 

Citing testimony from “a former senior U.S. official,” the report claims Major General Chen Wei, an expert in biology chemical weapon defenses, took control of the Wuhan Institute’s biosafety level-4 lab in late 2019.  That timing demonstrates the Chinese Communist Party “was concerned about the activity happening there as news of the virus was spreading,” according to the report.  “If she took control in 2019, it would mean the CCP knew about the virus earlier, that the outbreak began earlier.” 

Dr. Shi Zhengli, known as the Wuhan Institute ‘Bat Lady’ reportedly worked with military officials at the lab, despite denying it.  (APTN)

Satellite imagery of Wuhan in September October 2019 showed a significant increase in hospital visits internet searches for COVID-19 symptoms.  The report also claims that mapping data suggesting researchers at the lab likely used the Wuhan shuttle bus city metro for their daily work commute, spreading the virus throughout the city. 

The committee also used an interview in Bloomberg with Dr. Danielle Anderson, an Australian virologist, to establish some of the lab’s commuting patterns.  Anderson is the only foreign scientist to have undertaken research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology’s BSL-4 lab, according to Bloomberg.  She also told the publication that entering exiting the facility was carefully choreographed, included requirements to take precisely timed chemical personal showers.   

In that June interview, Dr. Anderson maintained she knew of no one at the Wuhan institute who was ill towards the end of 2019 said she believes the virus most likely came from a natural source. 

Around that time, the Republican researchers said there’s evidence the virus was spreading throughout central Wuhan, just ahead of the World Military Games which, “became an international vector, spreading the virus to multiple continents around the world.” 

CORONAVIRUS IN THE US: STATE-BY-STATE BREAKDOWN

In October, Wuhan hosted the 2019 Military World Games, which drew thousands of military personnel to compete in Olympic-style events.  International press reports cite athletes claiming events were conducted without fans that Wuhan was a “ghost town.”  Athletes from several countries complained of COVID-like symptoms four countries that sent athletes have confirmed the presence of COVID-19 in November December of 2019, before the outbreak became public, according to the report. 

The committee staff also build their argument on the possibility viruses can be genetically modified without leaving evidence of manipulation.  They cite an Italian publication’s interview with Dr. Ralph Baric, who studies coronaviruses at the University of North Carolina collaborated with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, in which he claimed that scientists can engineer a virus “without leaving any trace. Dr. Baric told the MIT Technology Review that “We never created a supervirus.” 

Republican staff also cite a 2017 dissertation from a doctoral student working at the WIV that claimed coronaviruses could be manipulated without leaving any trace sequences.  They said they also interviewed “scientists current former U.S. government officials” who questioned whether the virus developed naturally because of its highly infectious nature, lack of intermediate host discovered, its highly efficient binding to human ACE2 receptor. 

Some scientists have pointed out it often takes years to determine the origins of naturally occurring virus.  They cite Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) which was first discovered in 2003.  That same year researchers discovered the intermediate host though it took until 2017 to trace its origin to bats. 

CLICK HERE TO GET THE FOX NEWS APP

As calls to at least investigate the lab-leak theory have gained traction internationally, Chinese government propaganda has become much more aggressive to dispel it – the latest in a pattern to obscure information about the pandemic since its onset. 

On February 27, 2020, Health Times, published an interview with Yu Chuanhua, the Vice President of the Hubei Health Statistics Information Society, who has compiled a database of confirmed COVID-19 cases.  He cited a patient who became ill September 29 that “There were two cases in November, the onset time was November 14 November 21, 2019.” 

“Before the interview was published on February 27th, Yu called the reporter tried to retract the information regarding the two sick patients in November. It is likely that this was done to comply with the China CDC gag order that was issued two days prior,” according to the congressional report. 

In a January 2021 email, Dr. Shi Zheng-li, a senior scientist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, was asked about the lab’s public database disappearance from the internet.  Shi, according to the report, had previously “given several conflicting answers” as to why the database was taken down, responded:  “I’ll not answer any of your questions if your curiosity is based on the conspiracy of ‘man made or lab leak of SARS-CoV-2’ or some non-sense questions based on your suspicion.”  

“No trust, no conversation,” she said. 



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The next ‘Fortnite’ concert stars Ariana Grande


Epic Games is continuing its string of superstar Fortnite concerts. The game developer has revealed a “Rift Tour” concert series that will star none other than pop songstress Ariana Grande. The first show takes place August 6th at 6PM Eastern, with subsequent shows on August 7th 8th to ensure people in other time zones can tune in.

The game developer is warning concertgoers to arrive early (an hour before the show). The Rift Tour playlist will go live 30 minutes beforehand. It won’t surprise you to hear that there will be themed cosmetic items, either. You can pick up an Ariana outfit to play as the pop star, Piggy Smallz Back Bling adds a cute touch while you take down your battle royale rivals. Both should appear in the Fortnite Item Shop on August 4th at 8PM Eastern, show attendees will pick up an umbrella glider.

Like with J Balvin, Travis Scott other Fortnite performers, this is as much about attracting newcomers to the game as it is enticing people to come back. It’s also notable that Epic is widening the range of artists to include female stars (recently unearthed plans for a Lady Gaga concert never panned out). In theory, Grande could help reel in people who wouldn’t otherwise play Fortnite — even if only a fraction of them stick around once the “7 Rings” singer has moved on.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.



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Need developers, project managers or CIOs? Watch out, because the rules of tech hiring are changing


There has always been a tech skills crisis, pretty much ever since the days when computers filled entire rooms were fed instructions on punch cards.

There are plenty of reasons for this, but fundamentally we are not training enough people to fill the jobs that are out there. 

And even if we could, there’s always going to be a mismatch between the education that students absorb in college the skills they need in the world of work. Businesses rarely plan more than a few months ahead, the skills they need are constantly in flux anyway, making it hard for education to keep pace. And, of course, tech is a fast-moving industry in which skills go out of fashion quickly. As a result, many employees will require regular retraining.

The events of the last 18 months have made the skills shortage even worse. Developers, IT support staff project managers are exhausted after first helping organisations make a rapid switch to working from home, then supporting further adjustments to business models. Around 80 percent of developers report being burned out, with around half blaming their workloads.

On top of that, many organisations are now kicking off huge digital transformation projects to build on the changes they were forced to make during the pandemic. Inevitably, the pressure on IT staff will start building again, because you simply can’t run these projects without developers or project managers or CIOs.

On top of that, employers are unveiling their plans for a return to the office, even though significant numbers of staff remain reluctant to resume their commutes. Exhausted developers, thoughtless employers a major tech skills shortage? No wonder many are talking about the ‘great resignation’, as workers gear up to quit: half of tech staff are considering leaving their jobs.

Many employers are very bad at hiring retaining the right people offering the training development opportunities that developers want. And when employers fail to provide that structure, you can hardly blame tech staff for moving on rapidly to new jobs (three-quarters of tech security professionals say they are approached by recruiters every month).

The end result is a significant realignment going on in the tech skills market. For far too long employers have failed to create the right conditions for success. Employers haven’t fully understood they skills they require, have had unrealistic expectations about employees’ levels of experience, or have not paid enough. They have also paid insufficient attention to career development training.

Right now, tech workers are in high demhave a strong negotiating position. Not just in terms of salary, but also in terms of flexible remote working requirements. Listening to what developers other tech workers want might be a big step towards solving the skills crisis, by creating a better working environment more attractive career path. The rules of tech recruiting are changing, employers who are also willing to change will reap the benefits.

ZDNET’S MONDAY MORNING OPENER 

The Monday Morning Opener is our opening salvo for the week in tech. Since we run a global site, this editorial publishes on Monday at 8:00am AEST in Sydney, Australia, which is 6:00pm Eastern Time on Sunday in the US. It is written by a member of ZDNet’s global editorial board, which is comprised of our lead editors across Asia, Australia, Europe, North America. 

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